Reality of Harsh Voter ID Laws: Another Ignoble Effort to Suppress the Vote

July 20, 2012

by Jeremy Leaming

In a piece examining stringent voter ID laws implemented by a string of states, The New York Times likely in pursuit of balance or so-called objectivity trumpets the defense of the new impediments to voting.

The laws, Ethan Bronner writes are called “voter suppression” by Democrats, and proponents of them say they are really about ensuring integrity of the nation’s elections, by wiping out voter fraud. And besides, those supporters note, we live in an “era when photo identification is routine for many basic things including air travel.”

But Viviette Applewhite, interviewed for the piece, gets closer to the truth.

She’s a 93-year-old Philadelphian who had no difficulty voting in 2008, but because of the state’s new voter ID law is looking at the possibility of not participating in a fundamental component of democracy this time around. “They’re trying to stop black people from voting so Obama will not get re-elected,” Applewhite, whose purse with all her identification was stolen, said. “That’s what this whole thing is about.”

A Pennsylvania Republican who helped shove the rigid voter ID law through the legislature claimed that it would help the party’s presidential candidate carry the state.

More importantly, the Constitution does provide that citizens “shall not be denied” the ability to vote because of race. Purchasing a cocktail or an airplane ticket is an action that often requires photo identification. Voting, however, is rather integral to democracy. So equating voting with other actions that require photo IDs is lame.

But doesn’t voter fraud need to be addressed by the government? There is little evidence that voter fraud is much of a problem, regardless of right-wing rhetoric.

As Loyola Law School Professor Justin Levitt noted in a recent ACS Issue Brief, examining Florida’s voter ID law, “Americans are struck and killed by lighting more often. And every year there are far more reports of UFO sightings.”  

A report issued this week by the Brennan Center for Justice explains how the new voter ID laws disproportionately impact the elderly, the poor, students, and minorities. The laws make it costly to attain such IDs, and have the potential of disenfranchising millions of voters nationwide. The report supports Attorney General Eric Holder’s recent assertion that the new voter ID laws, such as the one in Texas, are akin to poll taxes of the Jim Crow era, which have been found unconstitutional.